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The art of religion news in the internet age, 1962-1975

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The internet age began with a goal to disrupt academic publishing. The slow traditional style of the academic press was too formal and slow for facilitating the dynamic exchange of ideas essential to the emerging scientific networks. Those academic media were resisting adaptation to the quickening pace of natural science at the cutting edge of fast-moving fields. The internet founders wanted to change academic publishing into a form more closely resembling the rhythm and style of an interactive news media for science and technology.

The United States, in particular, and other societies were becoming less reliant on heavy industry and economically-based more on the knowledge-producing and service sectors. Daniel Bell said that this new formation, “the postindustrial society,” was creating a very large cohort of scientists, engineers, tech investors and promoters. If they gathered together free from the dominance of the old-line industrialists, they would gain the ideas and money to create a new way of organizing the American economy and culture. New religious groups that emphasized audience participation, transcendent personal identities, and public messaging would replace older mainline religious establishments based upon hierarchy and tradition..

Simply put, the tech industry was part of a trend that was bursting the bonds of the relatively rigid impersonal, routines of industrial society in favor of a more fluid society, intense expressive individualism, and prestige based on associations with the new culture. It was the suits versus the t-shirts with the later winning most of the battles over the next fifty years. Now, there are questions about whether the t-shirted crowd is becoming the new top heavy establishment. Sports coats are being slipped over the t-shirts, and the suits are going without ties.

Another purpose of the proposed electronic network of scholarly news was to facilitate large defense research projects. The problem that American scientists faced was how to coordinate the efforts of thousands of scientists and engineers scattered across the country. The industrial age of Big Research funded its own progress by promoting a new form of electronic communication which also created contradictory trends towards its own disruption when the network became an internet autonomous from centralized control. As economist Joseph Schumpeter explained, capitalism creates its own destruction and renewal.

The first recorded description of the social interactions that could be enabled through networking was a series of memos written by J.C.R. Licklider of MIT in 1962 and 1963 discussing his "Galactic Network" concept (some of this historical narrative is from He envisioned a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site. In spirit, the concept was very much like the Internet of today. Starting in 1962, Licklider occupied a strategic position as the first head of the computer research program at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the latest name change for the agency). Since DARPA was a key funding agency for scientific research, Licklider had contact and influence with a large network of fellow scientists. While at DARPA, he convinced several other scientists who became his successors of the importance of this networking concept.

Subsequently, when MIT researcher Lawrence G. Roberts went to DARPA in 1966, he further develop the computer network concept and published his plan for the "ARPANET" in 1967.

The Network Measurement Center at UCLA was selected to be the first node on the ARPANET. Doug Engelbart's project on "Augmentation of Human Intellect" at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) provided a second node. On October 29, 1969, the first message was sent over the two-node network only to have the SDS Sigma 7 computer, a refrigerator-sized machine, crash. The first message was supposed to be “LOGIN” but the system only transmitted the letters “L” and “O.”

About an hour later, having recovered from the crash, the SDS Sigma 7 computer sent a full “LOGIN.”

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Two more nodes were added at University of California, Santa Barbara and University of Utah to incorporate projects on visualization applications for the display of mathematical functions methods and 3-D representations over the net. From the beginning, the goal was a least a limited form of multimedia transmission.

ARPANET demonstration. The predecessor of the interent.

ARPANET demonstration. The predecessor of the internet.

Meanwhile, other people were utilizing the phone system and computers to create dial-up networks. In 1969 a key step was taken by a graduate student Steven Crocker (then at UCLA) in establishing the Request for Comments (or RFC) series of notes. These memos were intended to be an informal fast distribution way to share ideas with other networked researchers. Crocker wrote that “the basic ground rules were that anyone could say anything and that nothing was official.” Today, he is chair of ICANN, the organization that sets the rules for internet domain names. In 1969 Compuserve was set up to allow any telephone user to dial-up and send messages and read bulletin boards.


In 1971, a team at the BBC, and another at the British Post Office, independently developed  Web-like information systems that used ordinary TVs and telephone lines. The British Post Office version eventually became Prestel and in France Minitel. Prestel was prohibitively expensive for the mass audience, but Minitel became popular because the government provided free terminals and an attractive pricing schedule for the service.



Early networked news service.

The first successful public demonstration of the ARPANET took place in October 1972. It was also in 1972 that the initial "hot" application, electronic mail, was introduced. The rules of the emerging network were inclining toward an egalitarian openness, and, by 1974, it was called the ”internet,” a shortened form of “internetworking.”

Other innovations that came to play an important role in online news media also had their early beginnings in the 1960s and 1970s. Various strategies were attempted to create virtual reality displays. Much of the early work was on how to replicate in video and computer simulations the 3-D effects of the old still-photo stereoscopes. Attempts were even made to include scent and touch sensations to 3-D video displays through something called “Sensorama.” The early protoypes of hand motion detectors, 3-D googles, and synthesizer sounds were all created in this period. Ivan Sutherland proposed a head mounted display for graphics. Military engineer Thomas Furness developed what became the Super Cockpit, a virtual reality display for pilots. Much of the work found an outlet in video games, but very little into news reporting. Timothy Leary jumped on the virtual reality bandwagon as an enhanced vehicle for experiences that paralleled in power the effects of taking LSD.

In 1973 in New York City the first mobile phone call was made by Martin Cooper of Motorola. In 1975 Kodak produced a digital camera prototype. That same year, the high tech laboratory Xerox PARC  connected to ARPANET, bringing with them a superior graphical interface.

We can see in these early developments the seeds of future aesthetics of online religion news. The technologies allowed interaction between writers and their audiences, encouraged constantly changing texts with connections to digressions and in-depth explanation, innovative visualizations and data-driven graphics. According to most studies, even the simple email developed in this period still remains as one of the most efficient tools in connecting online media to its most supportive viewers.


Courtesy of Fusion. GIF by Omar Bustamante.

Digital native. Courtesy of Fusion. GIF by Omar Bustamante.

Of course, at first the aesthetics were very simple, quite limited by the technological capabilities. Early on, designers had to use patterns, spaces and repetitions of letters to create simple pictorial representations.  Some used plotters that could print lines that could be turned into linear drawings with shadings done by cross-hatching. “Comments,” discussion threads, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and hypertext (text with links) created a text-based aesthetic of ever swerving narratives with tangents, footnotes, sidebars and interjections of expansive explanations. With the advent of the PC and the Apple computer, the tools for greater variety, complexity and contradictions of design became more and more available to every individual.

Next: 1976-1989 The PC Age and The emergence of the digital age for news reporting

The launch of the New York Times VR is the latest iteration of disruptive digital technologies that go back to the founding of the digital world

The launch of the New York Times VR is the latest iteration of disruptive digital technologies that go back to the founding of the digital world. Twitter photo from New York Times.


Also, read:

No. 1 Complexity and contradiction in the art of online religion news reporting.


No. 2 Sensationalism versus Sobriety in the religion news media in the 19th & 20th Centuries


No. 3 The incompleteness theorem of news designs


No. 4 Disrupter City. Complexity and contradiction in the art of online religion news reporting. No. 4


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